The Legal Services Consumer Panel today ratcheted up the pressure on regulators to impose transparency requirements on lawyers with survey findings that only 6% of consumers could find prices on their websites.
The latest output from the panel’s annual tracker survey showed “an unchanged sector, which is slow to respond to consumer need”.
“Consumers cannot engage because the information needed to do so is not readily available. We continue to call on the regulators and the Legal Services Board to work robustly towards implementing the transparency recommended by the Competition and Markets Authority.”
YouGov polled a nationally representative sample of 1,822 adults, as well as 1,625 adults who have used legal services in the last two years.
The number of consumers who said it was easy to compare providers fell from 57% in 2016 to 48% in 2017, with those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds finding it harder than white consumers.
Part of the problem may be that consumers simply do not understand what lawyers do. Only 27% said they had a “good knowledge” of lawyers’ work, unchanged since 2015. Understanding was particularly low for the young and those from a lower social grade.
The panel suggested that this was also a proxy for transparency.
The research comes in the wake of the legal regulators each publishing consultations on how they plan to increase transparency requirements.
It continued: “The results particularly show low levels of price transparency amongst legal services providers. Only 6% of consumers found the price on the provider’s website and 4% found it through a comparison website.”
However, younger consumers were noticeably more likely to have found out the information in these ways than older people, while those who shopped around found it easier to find information on cost.
In all, having a conversation with the provider was the way the majority of consumers determined the price. “But shopping around does work; 87% of those who did so believe that they have more choice than those who did not (67%).”
Panel chair Dr Jane Martin described the tracker as “the barometer of consumer opinion on the state of the UK legal services market”.
She continued: “It is very disappointing to note that change has been slow and basic information is not sufficiently available to help consumers make a proper choice.
“The sector now has both the challenge and opportunity to put this right as all the regulators are working together to implement the recommendations of the Competition and Markets Authority’s report. I hope we will see serious improvements when we repeat the survey in the coming years.”